As a senior in High School, I received two acceptance letters for college. One was from the University of Illinois where the tuition and room and board was priced at $12,000. The other was from Illinois Wesleyan University where tuition and fees were in the $19,000 range. However, thanks to need-based financial aid, it was cheaper for me to attend the private school rather than the state school. My out of pocket expenses were $2,000 for IWU versus $7,000 for U of I. It was so counter intuitive that I had to convince my parents that it was true.
How could this be? In both cases, I received $5,000 in a combination of federal grants and loans. That lowered my out of pocket expenses to $7,000 at U of I. However, I received need based financial aid from Illinois Wesleyan University that brought my out of pocket expenses down to $2,000.
Financial Aid Insider Interview (Public University)
Today, we are going to talk with a financial aid insider to better understand the process and give you a leg up. Kelly, a current coworker, was previously a financial aid adviser at a state university in Florida. Below are excerpts from our interview:
Jake - How early do I need to complete my FAFSA?
Kelly - You will need to complete a FAFSA every year. The FAFSA is available on January 1st of each year. It is recommended that you fill it out as early as possible. Since most people do not have their previous year tax information (W2s and 1040s) until after January, the priority deadline to fill out the FAFSA at many schools is February 14th. This gives you the most access to any grants that you might qualify for.
Jake – What happens if parents don’t complete the FASFA for their child?
Kelly - If you are a dependent student , your parents are required to fill out the FAFSA. In certain circumstances, your institution will be able to evaluate your situation and determine if they can do what is called a Dependency Override. However, these are normally only given out to students who are in extreme situations. For example, their parents are not alive or incarcerated.
Jake – Are their limits a student can borrow for financial aid?
Kelly - Yes. Students can receive financial aid up to their overall “Cost of Attendance”. The “Cost of Attendance” is calculated for each student after they file a FAFSA. It takes into account a student’s financial situation, the cost of the institution they are attending, and whether they are full time or part time. There are also Stafford Loan Limits. They are based on the student’s grade level (amount of credit hours completed). Click here for the limits.
Jake - Will my child receive money to live on?
Kelly - This will depend on how much financial aid you receive and the cost of your classes. If there is money left over after your tuition and fees are paid for, you will receive the remainder in the form of a Financial Aid Refund.
Jake – What if I can’t get enough student loans to cover the year?
Kelly – You can apply for scholarships, private grants, or private loans. Most private student loans will require certification from the school you are attending.
Jake – As a student, what are my options to borrow more money to pay for school if I need to?
Kelly – If you are at your limit for federal student loans, you can apply for private loans through different banks. However, this will need to stay within your overall “Cost of Attendance” number.
Jake – Can a parent take out a student loan to help pay for the child’s education?
Kelly – Yes, this is called a Parent PLUS loan. This loan is a federal loan, but in your parents name. They are required to pay back the loan. Unlike a student loan, PLUS loan repayments begin as soon as the loan is disbursed. To receive this loan, a student must fill out a FAFSA, and their parents must pass a credit check. If a student’s parents do not pass the credit check for a PLUS loan, the student is eligible for additional unsubsidized loans.
Jake – If my income drastically changes during a financial aid year is there anything I can do to have my circumstances reviewed?
Kelly – You can make an appointment with your financial aid office. In rare circumstances, your FAFSA can be reviewed and possibly changed. This is called a Professional Judgment.
Jake – What happens to my financial aid if I drop out?
Kelly – If you completely drop out of your classes in the middle of a semester, you will have what is called a Return to Title 4 run on you. This is used to determine how much of your financial aid you actually “earned” by the length of time you stayed in school. Any funds that are determined as unearned, will require immediate pay back. If you pass a certain point in the semester (60%), then you are not required to pay any of the aid back for that term. This includes an unofficial withdraw (failing all your classes). Even if you are not required to pay any money back, you could fall into Satisfactory Academic Progress Suspension. If you do not re-enroll in classes within the next 6 months, your federal loan repayment grace period will end and you will be required to start paying back your loans.
Jake – Will financial aid cover a class if I fail or withdraw?
Kelly – Students are expected to complete and pass all classes that they attend, and finish their degree program in a certain amount of time. If your GPA falls below a 2.0, you do not complete more than 67% of the classes you enrolled in, or your attempted credit hours have passed the acceptable amount of time that would require to receive a degree (undergraduate students = 180 attempted hours, graduate students= 150% of total credit hours required to complete the degree program). Failing or withdrawing could cause students to fall into any of those 3 categories, especially if it occurs in multiple semesters. If any of these situations occur, a student will be placed on Warning. As long as they have a good semester the next term, they should be able to put themselves back in Good Standing. If these issues continue, a student will be placed on Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) Suspension, and will not be eligible for financial aid unless they submit an appeal and it is approved. Note- SAP Suspension will follow you to every school you attend. Changing schools will not help you get rid of this issue. Also note, appeals are getting more and more difficult to get approved.
Jake – What happens to my financial aid if I want to change my major or change schools?
Kelly – As long as you attend a degree seeking program at an accredited institution and are not under SAP Suspension, you are still eligible for Federal Financial Aid.
Jake - What is the one piece of advice you would give to students and parents?
Kelly - Just because you are eligible for a certain loan amount, does not mean you should take it all out. The least amount of debt you can have when starting out after college, the better off you will be. Also, be creative and search for private scholarships. Thousands of dollars go unclaimed every year because people do not apply. It takes research and work, but it’s worth it if you can eliminate your debt.
Jake - Are there any other tips you can share with us?
Kelly - You can find a loan repayment calculator on the FAFSA website. Use it!
Financial Aid can seem like a daunting undertaking. I recommend you and your child read Confessions of a Scholarship Winner for an inspirational story about winning scholarships and practical tips to get you started.
Do you have a question that I did not ask Kelly? She sits around the corner from me so ask your question in the comments and I’ll post back an answer.
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